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Tuesday, January 07, 2014

The Marketers of Fear

Big pile of firearms
Maybe it got lost in the annual post-Holiday news outage, but Yahoo! News reported on the second day of the new year that a study by the Advanced Law Enforcement Rapid Response Training (ALERRT) Center at Texas State University shows a definite uptick in the occurrence of mass shootings in the United States. According to the report, investigators counted only those sorts of crimes that immediately come to mind when you hear the term "mass shooting." These are a separate sort of crime, distinguished by more than the death tolls.

"Researchers considered only active shootings in public settings where the primary motive appeared to be mass murder and at least one of the victims was unrelated to the suspect. Shootings during crimes such as bank robberies, drug deals, and gang violence were excluded," Yahoo reported -- i.e., crimes where the sole purpose was to kill people. Incidences rose from five a year in 2000-2008 to sixteen a year in the period of 2009-2012.

Of course, this undercuts the gunners' claims that the opposite is true. And even those claims are cherrypicked. They cite the work of Northeastern University Lipman Family Professor of Criminology, Law and Public Policy James Alan Fox. Fox does not weed out the "bank robberies, drug deals, and gang violence" that ALERRT did. He does, however, recommend gun control policies -- a fact the gun apologists conveniently skip over.


James Alan Fox: The lack of any upward trend should not stop us, of course, from trying to find causes and solutions for extreme violence. A fitting the legacy to this summer's tragedies [this was after Aurora and the Sikh temple shooting in Wisconsin, but before Newtown] would be the expansion of mental health services. We should also have a serious debate about sensible restrictions on gun sales but absent the politics. And perhaps we should all try harder to reach out to those around us who seem to be struggling financially, socially or psychologically.

Unfortunately and realistically, these and other initiatives may not prevent or deter the next mass murderer living amongst us. But in the process of trying, we may actually enhance the safety and well-being of thousands, if not millions, of Americans.
In other words, Fox's reasoning when it comes to law and crime is the same as humanity's has been since the dawn of civilization; just because someone may not obey a law does not mean it's completely unenforceable or ineffective. The gun lobby argues the opposite; that since some criminals will disobey laws limiting firearms, these laws shouldn't be passed at all. Of course, this makes as much sense as saying that since some criminals ignore laws against rape, there should be no laws against rape at all.

This all boils down to what the gun lobby really stands for -- and that is gun sales. They don't represent gun owners, as much as they insist otherwise. They represent gun manufacturers. They aren't interested in the safety of gun owners. In fact, they have every incentive to undermine that safety. Nothing sells guns like fear. And nothing promotes fear like frequent mass murder in the headlines. More guns = more murder = more gun sales. The best marketing campaign for guns is high-profile gun violence, hands down.

Would that be particularly evil of the gun lobby and firearms manufacturers? Yes it would. But it would hardly be an unprecedented level of corporate evil. Think Big Tobacco denying the link between smoking and cancer, while sitting on research that proved that link existed. Think Big Oil, who undermine efforts to fight global warming in order to sell five minutes more worth of fossil fuels. If the choice is between money or lives, corporate America will choose money every time. And they'll launch a big PR campaign to confuse the whole issue and blow smoke over that whole loss of life thing.

So you could say that an increase in mass shootings represents everything going the gun lobby's way. They're selling more guns than ever, because people are more afraid of gunmen than ever -- with good reason. The gun lobby exists to offer the exact wrong solution to a problem its own industry creates. Can you imagine how much more profitable Big Tobacco could've been if they'd figured out a way to use smoking deaths to create more smokers?

That's what you're seeing here. Every new gravestone represents new sales. Don't fool yourself. This may just be the way they like it.


[photo via Wikimedia Commons]

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